Photos are by James Wilkes and are stolen from his Facebook.
I recently swore a solemn oath to attend Glastonbury every year it takes place for either as long as I live, or, at the very least, as long as it's sensible for me to do so. They've got that place nailed. Once again, each of the five days sowed at least one memory which will be treasured for life. In fact, I had such a wonderful time that I've even begun to consider 2011's to be a new benchmark in life-affirmation. Ho yes: I might just have enjoyed myself more than I did in 2009.
I would hammer out a painstaking dissection of my entire weekend, but for a few reasons. First of all, nobody would read it. Second of all, so prone am I to hyperbole and hagiography that those who did read it might mistake my ramblings for Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Mostly, though, it was always going to be the case that I'd finally “get” U2, that Coldplay would spellbind and that Elbow would, once again, make me feel like I'm floating several feet above my body.
Instead, then, in a rare moment of brevity on my part, I'm going to share the ten things I learned at Glastonbury 2011:
1. I Really Like Rock Music
Yes, this was always the case, I know. I couldn't help but notice, though, how all but two or three of the acts I saw over the weekend comprised of either gently strumming ethereal wonders or furiously punishing squalling warriors of such vigour that they'd be just in describing their instruments as “axes”. And you know what? It was bloody flipping brilliant. Yes, there will always be tremendous room for excursions into electronic sound as conducted with furrowed brows and stroked beards, but this weekend I learned that my “bread and butter” is served with a hefty slice of pickups and plectrums. Which reminds me -
2. Josh Homme Is A Really Nice Man
Yes, so enamoured was I by the majesty of rock that I caved and decided to let my weekend go out with a bang. The laser-enhanced Queens Of The Stone Age were a force of nature. So intense, intricate and brutal were their jams that the plaid-wearer in me was never not going to be thrilled, but having heard so much bad about the walking sneer that is Josh Homme, I was stunned to find him to actually be a really, really nice man. He seemed genuinely pleased to be onstage and absolutely delighted to play for us. His jokes were lewd but often swung endearing close to “dad” territory (“I saw a couple of guys dressed as fuckin' bananas. I guess they split”). I fully believed his statement that they'd never forget that night, and they more than delivered on their promise to give us a show that we'd never forget.
3. Mr. E Knows Exactly What He's Doing
In Sunday's blistering heat, a spin through their painfully aching back catalogue might not have provided a convincing case for Eels to be the ideal band to play at sunset. But when they took to the stage with a pair of uniformed horn players in tow and proceeded to treat us to nuanced arrangements of the more upbeat offerings from their canon, suddenly the planets aligned. The usually claustrophobic, terrifying Flyswatter was given such a summery revamp that the uninitiated might have mistaken it for a song about fishing during a carnival, or something. The Man Called E also confirmed himself to be one of the strangest and funniest men in rock. Such screams as “You have a nice smile!” came between songs, and his band introductions were utterly hysterical.
4. I Know What Bliss Looks And Tastes Like
It looks like a panoramic view of a sunkissed valley teaming with people dedicated to having the best time it is possible to have whilst inhabiting human skin set to the gently lilting sounds of Sea of Bees. It tastes like chargrilled Jamaican jerk chicken served with fried rice and kidney beans washed down with a cold beer. Bliss is also best spent in the company of people who you'd proudly profess to “bloody love”. Which it was. All weekend.
5. If You Want To Have Fun, It's Impossible Not To
Never mind the biblical downpours which greeted our arrival on Wednesday morning which ensured that we had to hastily erect our tents in freezing torrents and sit shivering in them for hours afterwards whilst we waited for the sky to clear, our clothes to dry and our fatigue to lift. By mid-afternoon we were sprawled on the grass drinking festival-strength pear-cider. We had arrived. And never mind that it took me some 11.5 hours to get home. What matters is that I was there. Glastonbury has tremendous potential to make you smile even when it seems that absolutely everything is conspiring against you. Case in point – our Welsh companion had some £150 stolen from his tent. He simply thus concluded that he therefore had to have an extra £150 worth of fun. Would that he and I and everyone could take the same approach to the rest of our lives.
6. Festivals Can Be Very, Very Cheap
I'm quite poor at the moment, but at no point did I feel destitute over the weekend. At no point did I feel as though my insolvency was having a negative impact upon my potential to enjoy myself. In fact, I managed to survive on around £100 for the entire five day weekend. The trick is to take lots of apples, bananas and cereal bars, to drink milk in the morning and to only eat when you feel hungry (as opposed to “whenever you pass a food vendor with a nice smile”, as has been my M.O in previous years). Also, the almost-intolerable hangover I suffered on Thursday morning served to scupper my alcohol intake for the rest of the weekend, which was a further ease on my spending. This also lead to the realisation that:
7. I Don't Have To Be Drunk Or Drinking To Enjoy Myself
See above. Though this one comes as an almighty relief, I'd quite like a glass of whatever Guy Garvey's having, thanks.
8. TV On The Radio Are To Be Respected And Feared
Paul Simon was a horrible disappointment. Stood in an immobile crowd in the baking heat (they weren't even rudely talking amongst themselves! They just were), we strained to hear him mumble his way through apparently endless meandering blues jams as opposed to dipping into one of the strongest repertoires in music. Also, so hasty were we to reach him that I fell face-first into the mud. Disappointed and alienated, we instead decided to watch TV On The Radio – a band I'd previously not really listened to and therefore had no real intention of watching. Well, their set was one of those incredible “revelation” things for which us music fans always yearn. The opening swathes of Young Liars provided every ounce of salvation I had expected from Mr. Simon. Before long, everything was OK again, and by the end of their uplifting, hyperkinetic and utterly vital set, they were covering Ray Parker Jnr.'s Ghostbusters. I left with a “new” band to “check out”. There are few greater feelings.
9. The King Of Limbs Was Written To Be Played Live
Due to severe problems with the crowd, Radiohead's surprise Friday set was far from a weekend highlight for me. I must stress, though, that my disappointment has absolutely nothing to do with the band. They offered tight, mercurial, majestic elegance which served to remind me as to why I still insist that they're my favourite band. It was an immense honour to find myself prithee to the live debuts of such songs which were, apparently, so difficult to replicate live that they had to recruit an auxiliary drummer. His name's Clive, and Thom was right, we love him already. When I wasn't struggling to see and hear them amongst a desperately impatient crowd, I was able to marvel at how incredible has been their evolution from grunge also-rans through Britpop saviours and world-conquering, genre-defying and defining luminaries to the taut and groovy peerless jazz-blues elder-statesmen that they've become today. The material from The King of Limbs which so dominated the set sounds awesome live – and any “reporter” who insists that the crowd was disappointed by the lack of “hits” is obviously spouting piffle in the interests of pursuing tired and tedious iconoclastic copy – from where I was standing, they were loving it.
10. The Realisation That There Will Be No Glastonbury Next Year Is Rather Like Realising That There'll Be No Christmas
Wes Anderson's Rushmore teaches us that the secret to happiness may lie in finding something that we enjoy doing and to keep on doing it. Well, for me that seems to be going to Glastonbury. It's utopia, nirvana, Brigadoon and Christmas all rolled into one. And it's not taking place next year.
Which makes me wonder: Just what the hell are we all going to do with ourselves next summer? Just like Halloween wouldn't act as a substitute for Christmas, I doubt that simply opting for a different festival would be enough to sate me.
It might well be the case that we'll just have to unite and try our utmost to create our own positivity.
And there you go – a beautiful lesson for life – make your own wonder. We can change the world and happiness is possible – just so long as we're nice to each other.
Until 2013, then.